REVIEW- Insurrection: Holding History

Reading the synopsis of this play online had done little to prepare me and my friend for the powerful, and emotional journey into the US’s dark history of slavery that awaited us in the intimate space of the Arthur Miller theater. This interpretation of Robert O’Hara’s 1995 play was brilliantly adapted by the Department of Theater and Drama into a nearly three-hour long production filled with twists and turns.  O’Hara’s play is a time-traveling look into Nat Turner’s 1831 slave insurrection, from the point of view of Ron, a modern-day college student completing his thesis on slavery, and his 189 year-old grandfather, T.J., who was a part of the rebellion himself.

Before the play even began, I noted how intimate the Arthur Miller theater was, and that proved to only add to the emotional impact of the play itself.  The set was minimal and yet entirely sufficient to capture the feeling and multiple locations of the play.

One of my major takeaways was that every single actor had their intensity dialed up to the very top for the majority of the play’s runtime.  There were moments that left me breathless, as the actors went through emotions of extreme fear, anger, sadness in quick succession.  In the second act this was particularly noticeable, as the few moments that were quieter in nature were even more impactful, soft whispers standing in drastic contrast with the high energy shouts and cries of other scenes. Most of the actors also played multiple characters, and I was shocked at how easily they seemed to switch from one to the other.

Additionally, the actors were clearly working hard physically, with a large portion of the play being heavily choreographed or strenuous to do. I noticed that many of the actors would be sweating by the end of a short monologue, which only added to the emotional intensity.  While I know little about stage direction, it was an extremely lively play with never a dull moment, as the actors tripped, danced, and ran around not only the stage, but the entire theater.
I wasn’t expecting there to be the amount or level of comedy in this play as there ended up being.  Almost every other minute the actors sent the audience into a load roar of laughter.  Considering the dark themes of the play, the comedy felt uncomfortable at times, but I assume that was part of the point.  

I highly recommend attending future shows put on by the Department of Theater and Drama.  I couldn’t have imagined a more entertaining or engaging weekend.

PREVIEW: Insurrection: Holding History

 This weekend join the Department of Theater & Drama for a poignant production of the award winning Insurrection: Holding History.  The play dives into a time-traveling exploration of black history as a young grad student who shares a mental bond with his 189-year old grandfather travel through eras of US history, gaining new perspective in each one..

The show will be running from April 6th to the 9th in the Arthur Miller Theater on North Campus.  You can purchase tickets for all the upcoming show times online here.  General admission is $28 with  students only paying $12 with their M-card.  As a warning the play contains very mature films, so think carefully about who you bring.

REVIEW: The Importance of Being Ernest

Every single male role was played by a female, and the most imposing female role was played by a male. Such was Rude Mechanical’s original conception of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Oscar Wilde’s classic play published in 1895.

The play is all about relationships. Algernon, played by Cailean Robinson, and Jack, played by Mason Van Gieson, discuss romance and courtship. Both men develop a facade as they pursue two different women, and they build up a tower of lies until it all comes crashing down at the end in perfectly absurd Wilde-like fashion.

Although the play was supposedly changed to have its setting in the 1950’s, I didn’t notice much of a difference from Wilde’s original conception. Perhaps I just don’t know enough about English social history. Either way, the decision to switch genders was brilliant.

I didn’t realize how well the play would go with women in the shoes of men. Every role was well-acted, from Algernon’s well-timed poses as he recited Wildean witticisms, to Lady Bracknell’s diva pose every time he/she entered the stage.

Also losing his/her pants
Also losing his/her pants

Some of the one-liners were especially ironic, given the change of gender, such as when Algernon tells Jack:

“My dear fellow, the truth isn’t quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl. What extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!”

Or this rendition’s focus on the actors fondling their own and each others’ genitalia right in front of the audience (see above picture).

The set design was tasteful without being too imposing. Each act, from Algernon’s flat in London to the drawing-room of the Manor House in the country, had plenty of eye candy and props that the actors were free to interact with at will. There were some scenes where I couldn’t tell if the actions were rehearsed, or if they were entirely ad-libbed. My favorite example of this was in the Garden, where Cecily (in pink) grabs a flower pot and makes some raunchy gyrations with it.

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The only drawback of the play wasn’t because of the acting or directing, but due to Oscar Wilde himself. Say what you will about the man, but you have to admit that he likes his sensational plots. The first act goes out in all different directions, and the second act seems to tread out without telling the audience where its going. It isn’t until the very end of the third act that the play pulls itself together and makes sense of things.  Luckily, Rude Mechanicals made the journey worth it.

PREVIEW: The Importance of Being Ernest

Gather round connoisseurs of aesthetics, readers of 18th century plays, and lovers of Oscar Wilde.

Rude Mechanicals’ is putting on a version of The Importance of Being Ernest–set in the 1950’s–this weekend! See this link for specific showtimes and how to purchase tickets online.

Where: Mendelssohn Theater (Michigan League)

When: November 4 – 6 

Cost: $7 for students or FREE with a Passport to the Arts (yay!)

“Be yourself; everything else is already taken”

–Oscar Wilde

 

 

REVIEW: Ah, Wilderness!

Boy do I never get tired of seeing our amazing School of Music, Theatre, and Dance students perform. In the first play of the 2016-2017 year, they sure did not disappoint. This one was one of Eugene O’Neill’s more lighthearted plays, which meant not every character was terminally sad and there were a good number of jokes, but it also came with moments of sincerity and serious undertones.

The play revolved around a young boy named Richard who had just been rejected by his love, Muriel. This results in Richard galavanting off with one of his older brother’s friends and an older woman at a bar, where he becomes drunk and gets kicked out by the barkeep. He later finds out he had been deceived by Muriel’s father, and Muriel did indeed still love him. They meet to apologize and Richard explains what he had done. Everyone ends up surprisingly happy, which seems like a rare thing to come by in an O’Neill play.

Throughout the play, Richard’s father, Nat Miller, plays a strong role as a classic American father. He wants his son to become the best he can be, but is hesitant to punish him as he personally does not like having to punish his children. Some of the most touching moments in the play were when Nat would try to discipline his son or have a serious conversation about life, but ended up getting embarrassed and leaving Richard confused. There was obvious chemistry between the two actors that truly resembled a genuine father-son relationship and made watching the two grow through story even more touching.

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I would say the most impressive part of this performance was the cast’s ability to perform the subtle humor of the play. Not all of the jokes were outright funny, but had more nuance to them, and the cast portrayed this nuance perfectly. The cast even executed the more boisterous humor, like uncle Sid coming home drunk, incredibly well in all of its absurdity.

Finally, the set design was extraordinary. The women’s garb was exactly out of the 1900s, with the collared dresses and big waisted skirts. The men as well were iconic, with goggled sunglasses and boater hats. The bar scene was quintessential, and the home decor at the Miller residence set the mood for a suburban American family at the turn of the century. These little details made the story easier to follow, putting the radical thoughts of Richard Miller in perspective with the rest of the world at that time.

All in all, this was a very touching coming-of-age story, filled with many classic family brawls and a beautiful romantic scene under the moonlight. The actors did a spectacular job of portraying a close family going through daily life, and bringing the audience into this little slice of life O’Neill wrote a century ago.

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PREVIEW: Ah, Wilderness!

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When: Friday Oct. 14 at 8:00 pm, Saturday October 15 at 8:00 pm, Sunday October 16 at 2:00 pm

Where: Arthur Miller Theatre

How Much: $12 student tickets, $28 general admission

Come see the Department of Theatre and Drama perform a wildly funny performance of Ah, Wilderness!, written by Eugene O’Neill. The play is a coming-of-age story filled family values and romance. It’s bound to be a good show!

by Kim Sinclair